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Time to Reassess the Iraq War?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

President-elect Barack Obama, on "60 Minutes," defended the financial bailout package.

Yes, said Obama, the economy continues to suffer, but "I think the part of the way to think about it is things could be worse. … So part of what we have to measure against is what didn't happen and not just what has happened."

Interesting. Why not apply the "what didn't happen" standard to the unpopular Iraq war?

Obama calls the Iraq invasion a "dumb war." Never mind that all of his Democratic presidential nomination Senate opponents -- Sen. Chris Dodd, Sen./VP-elect Joe Biden, Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards -- voted for the war. At the time of the invasion of Iraq, more than 70 percent of Americans supported the war. Intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom, Jordan and Egypt -- just to name a few -- assumed that the dictator of Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

So, but for the Iraq war, what would have happened?

After 9/11, polls show that between 80 and 90 percent of Americans expected another hit within six months to a year. It didn't happen. One could argue that deposing Saddam Hussein staved off another 9/11 or perhaps even something bigger. Our government dispatched "weapons hunter" David Kay to Iraq, a caricature of whom appeared in Oliver Stone's anti-Bush movie, "W." Kay found no stockpiles of WMD. He did, however, say that Saddam retained the intention and the capability of resuming his WMD program, a resumption that seemed likely upon the removal of the then-imposed economic sanctions.

Kay said he and his team discovered: "A clandestine network of laboratories and safehouses within the Iraqi Intelligence Service that contained equipment subject to UN monitoring and suitable for continuing (chemical and biological weapons) research. A prison laboratory complex, possibly used in human testing of (biological weapons) agents, that Iraqi officials … were explicitly ordered not to declare to the UN. Reference strains of biological organisms concealed in a scientist's home, one of which can be used to produce biological weapons. New research on (biological weapon)-applicable agents … and continuing work on ricin and aflatoxin were not declared to the UN. Documents and equipment, hidden in scientists' homes, that would have been useful in resuming uranium enrichment by centrifuge and electromagnetic isotope separation."

But for the Iraq invasion, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi would not have renounced his WMD program. He reportedly stated that he did not want to suffer the same fate as Saddam. As a result of Libya's renunciation and transfer of its WMD program -- now under lock and key in Tennessee -- the State Department removed Libya from its official list of terror-sponsoring states. But for the Iraq war, we would not have uncovered intelligence about the work of Dr. A.Q. Khan, the so-called father of the Islamic bomb.

What about Bush's alleged ineptitude and use of illegal procedures in prosecuting the war?

The President-elect's transition team suggests that Obama might keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a proponent of the Bush surge strategy -- a strategy that Obama criticized and predicted would make things worse. That didn't happen. The surge and the change in counterinsurgency strategy successfully brought about long-awaited Iraqi political reconciliation, along with a dramatic reduction in American casualties. And Iraq and America appear ready to finalize a deal to have all the troops out by the end of 2011. Yes, it is a fixed -- reportedly not conditions-based -- timetable, but a timetable that, pre-surge, was unthinkable.

According to Siobhan Gorman, writing in The Wall Street Journal: "President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul controversial Bush administration intelligence policies, advisers say, an approach that is almost certain to create tension within the Democratic Party. … (Obama) recently voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. … The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight."

So was the Iraq war, as Obama insisted, a mission that "never should have been authorized and never should have been waged"?

A Rasmussen poll released a week ago finds voter confidence in the War on Terror at 60 percent -- its "highest level ever." As for Iraq, 42 percent of voters say that, long term, the mission will be judged a success, with 34 percent believing history will judge it a failure (down from 54 percent in March). At the war's beginning, President Bush said when the Iraqi government and military can stand up, we will stand down. Victory, he said, will be achieved when the country can defend itself against its enemies, foreign and domestic, and has established a democratic government in the region that will serve as a reliable ally in the War on Terror.

Mission accomplished?

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